Toronto checks the box: “Be a lot tougher team to face”

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Take a look at the chart below. It’s Toronto FC’s ledger since Aron Winter was kicked to the BMO curb, leaving former England international Paul Mariner in charge.

I never bought that Toronto’s previous woes were about systems. Winter’s 4-3-3 got beat on a lot, but for me, the defense wasn’t good enough and the players just didn’t have that right mix of belief and want-to. The mix and team chemistry looked “off.” The players never seemed to be playing for one another.

Looks like Mariner has done a lot of fixing — and right fast.

That’s hardly surprising; Tremendous desire and determination was the prime hallmark of all those rock-solid New England sides under Steve Nicol and his top assistant, Mariner.

I asked Mariner last week if the playoffs are out of sight, if he was even thinking in that direction? He’s not thinking “playoffs” at all, he said. Rather, the healing begins with creating a TFC that’s more difficult to play. He concentrated on simplicity in shape, so that teams about to meet Toronto would do so with a certain dread.

Further progress was seen last night. Yes, TFC gave up a late goal once again, this time to Vancouver. That’s three times the BMO bunch has conceded a stoppage time equalizer. Clearly, the belief and confidence needed to see out the results is still missing.

So where’s that progress I talked about? Last night, TFC upstaged the equalizer. They poked in a stoppage-time special for themselves, a later game-winner to overcome the late equalizer from moments before.

(MORE: Full match highlights from BMO Field are here)

So Toronto is 2-2-4 under Mariner. Not outstanding, of course, but not bad at all for a team that started with a league record nine consecutive losses.

FYI, Mariner also told me last week a defensive centerpiece is at the top of his personnel wish-list; whether or not they could secure that piece in the current window, he seemed less certain.

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